There is a logic out there that says that value software (games priced around $20) have to be bad titles. Many of us have seen this first hand and have purchased low-priced games only to be completely disappointed.
That is why WWII Normandy came as such a surprise. When it arrived at the GiN testing labs I, as the resident WWII buff, immediately claimed it as mine to review. However in the back of my mind I was thinking it would be something like WWII GI, which was a dismal piece of value software for the PC. WWII GI had terrible graphics that included 2D people inside a 3D world, as well as a very stupid computer AI.
However, I was amazed at the quality of WWII Normandy. This is a game that could be sold for $50 or more. The first thing that hit me was the sound. As you move around the battlefield, there is a very nice background soundtrack that includes random machine gun fire, explosions and other sounds of combat. You truly feel like you are in a war zone even when you are hiding out for a few minutes in a burnt out French chateau just trying to catch your breath. These atmosphere sounds are muffled slightly, so you won’t confuse them with enemies in your midst. When an enemy comes at you, you will distinctly hear them approaching and often they will be yelling at you as well.
The graphics are as impressive as the sound. The game uses the LithTech 3D engine, which was made popular by games like Blood and Blood 2. I really enjoy this engine as it equates to smooth graphics on almost any graphics card. On a lower-end test system (Pentium II 350 with a standard Riva TNT card) the game ran smoothly without any problems. Load times were also reasonable with only a few seconds between levels.
The Germans who are opposing you look pretty realistic. When you get close to an officer you can see they are wearing various medals and combat ribbons. The uniforms of the Germans, and of the dead Americans you find, are all very realistic. When an enemy gets hit, blood splatters on the wall behind them and sometimes onto the floor nearby. You won’t see any limbs or heads explode, but that does not really happen in combat anyway.
One of the strengths of the game is the fact that the weapons are realistic. When you are using your M-1 Garand Rifle, you can shoot accurately for a very long distance. It also does not take very many shots to put an enemy down. I found that two bullets in a bad guy almost always does the trick with the rifle. Most of the German elite troops are using MP40 sub-machine guns which, although firing at a very fast rate, are not very accurate at distances beyond medium range. You can stand back and watch the bullets land around you while you take a carefully aimed kill shot with your Garand. The only complaint I have as far as realism is that the real M-1 Garand has an eight-round clip, whereas in the game you get 15.
Other weapons include the M3 submachine gun, which can – and does in the game – outshoot the German MP38 or MP40. Although an ugly little gun, it is accurately reproduced here. The Colt 1911 pistol, which the M3 was technically designed to replace, seems a bit underpowered as it sometimes took six or seven shots to down an opponent at close range. Use this gun only as a last resort if everything else is out of ammo.
In addition to just troops to shoot at, there are also German tanks in the game. I was in for one heck of a surprise the first time I saw a Panzer up on a hill overlooking the road I was traveling on. In most WWII shooters the tanks are just there for looks. Not so in this game. As I strode up to the behemoth, I heard a squeaky clanking noise as the main turret gun started to turn in my direction. A few seconds later and BOOM, it was time to reload my last save.
Tanks drive around, push through walls and maneuver to keep you from reaching your goals. You are armed with a bazooka, but students of history know that the bazooka was severely underpowered when it comes to a lot of the tanks in the German arsenal. That is realistically portrayed here. You can tag a tank with your bazooka, but that does not mean it will knock it out. Sometimes it just makes it mad. It can take two shots to destroy a tank, and it is best if you aim for the turret itself, which is more vulnerable.
The enemy AI is also pretty smart. The enemy troops will take cover to avoid your fire and will move from cover to an exposed position, take a few shots at you and then retreat, or fall to their bellies to make a smaller silhouette if caught out in the open. I have also seen a tank retreat once its infantry support was eliminated.
The plot of the game is that you are a member of the 101 Airborne Division with a mission of creating havoc behind the lines as a precursor to the D-Day operation. The missions give you a very good variety of settings and goals, from the simple act of getting out of a flooded field, to rescuing captured members of French Resistance to hunting tanks along the hills of Normandy. In one mission you have to defend a bunker from encroaching troops and tanks, which puts you in the odd role of defender during a shooter. It is this variety that keeps you wanting to see just what you will have to do on your next mission.
The game has three difficulty settings. On easy level, you can solve the game after only a few hours of play, though it is still challenging and a lot of fun. The normal setting probably is the best, since the troops are a bit tougher and it takes longer to outthink them. I was not a fan of the hard level, where it seemed to take forever to gun down an opponent, but this provides a challenge for those that think the lower levels were too easy.
WWII Normandy proves that you don’t have to fork out a ton of money to purchase a fun experience for the PC. The game is very well-made and few will argue that they did not get their money’s worth. The game earns 4 and 1/2 GiN Gems for packing a lot of great features and fun into a game that cost less than $20. For WWII buffs, shooter fans or those that need a quick gaming fix, be sure not to overlook this fine title.